Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Paint it black: Restored locomotive Texas' color scheme will symbolize Atlanta's rise after war

(Photo: Max Sigler, Steam Operations Corp.)
The decision has been made: The restored locomotive Texas – made famous in the Great Locomotive Chase during the Civil War – will return to a black paint scheme when it goes on display at its new home in Atlanta.

As the Picket reported in September, officials at the Atlanta History Center have been conducting historical research and analysis on the Texas as it was deciding what era of its history the locomotive should depict. A committee was tasked with making a recommendation.

“How can this engine best educate folks? What story do we want to tell with this engine?” Jackson McQuigg, vice president of properties at the AHC, said at the time.

The AHC said Wednesday that the Texas, built in 1856, will appear as it did “when it was the workhorse of the Western & Atlantic Railroad” from the 1880s and beyond. The locomotive and its tender will be primarily black. Since the 1930s and before the current restoration, the displayed Texas was festooned in places with brighter colors.

Howard Pousner, manager of media relations for the AHC, said some final paint detail decisions will be made soon. The locomotive will include the Western & Atlantic lettering and the name Texas.

"This still is a work in progress. Right now, we’re trying to figure out how to replicate the look of Russian iron for the boiler jacket, for instance," Pousner said. "And historic photos, which of course are black and white, have us leaning toward white lettering. But that’s not a final decision, either. The driver tires are likely to be white as well."

During its Grant Park days
The locomotive, which sat in the former Atlanta Cyclorama building in the Grant Park neighborhood for nearly 90 years, will be moved (along with the painting of the Battle of Atlanta) to the AHC campus in the Buckhead neighborhood.

Officials said they will stress the Texas' role in Atlanta's rise as a transportation hub and its involvement in the Great Locomotive Chase.

Craftsmen with Steam Operations Corp. have been conducting the restoration since December 2015. They have worked out of a large building at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer.

The transportation museum announced Tuesday that the public will be able to see the restored locomotive during a celebration from April 28-30. The locomotive may be moved to Atlanta in May.

The story of the Texas, which was built in 1856, made the color scheme choice a bit complicated.

Should the restored locomotive have a Civil War appearance? The fact that much of the existing engine is not original, because of the replacement of nearly all of its working parts over time, would it made it extremely difficult to replicate such a look.

Companies such as the Western & Atlantic at that time had a livery of colors that might include bright red, blue, brown, gold and green wheels and accents. During the Civil War, the Texas likely featured many of those colors -- or others.

In April 1862, James Andrews and his band of Union raiders – having captured the locomotive General -- tried to destroy much of the Western & Atlantic Railroad and communications as they rushed northward from Marietta to Chattanooga, Tenn. They were chased by two locomotives, with the Texas running in reverse in the final stretch.

Texas with a different number in 1907 (Atlanta History Center photo)

The raiders achieved little success and eight of the nearly two dozen captured participants, disguised as civilians, were later hanged in Atlanta as spies. Andrews was among them.

The bright-color fad lasted only a few decades. Like thousands of other locomotives, the Texas was converted from burning wood to coal. They didn’t look so fancy when covered in black soot. The Texas was black by 1880, said railroad historian Jim Wilke, and it stayed that way until it ended service in 1907.

The locomotive was saved from the salvage yard and eventually was put on display with the famous painting in a building at Grant Park. The balloon stack and cab, which still has some of its original wood, were painted brown. The wheels and cowcatcher became a bright red. The bands, or belts, around the boiler, the sand dome, some pipes and the valve chests were a dull gold.

As it appeared last summer (Picket photo)

Wilke said he believes artist and historian Wilbur Kurtz did the best he could during the 1930s restoration. Kurtz spoke with people who had memories of the engine, Wilke said. But nuances and precise details may have become lost. Plus, historians have not been able to locate paint schemes for Danforth, Cooke and Company, which manufactured the Texas.

Pousner said officials have not decided what the cowcatcher, or pilot, will look like.

The paint scheme choice is not a total surprise, given AHC officials have touted the Texas’ importance to the commerce of the city after the war.

McQuigg said then that painting the Texas black would be keeping with its appearance for much of its life. “The Civil War is important … but there are other stories as well.”
The locomotive and tender earlier this month (NC Transportation Museum)


  1. Just because the General looks nothing like she did in 1862 is no reason to do the same to Texas. This is the result of the kind of PC thinking that's ruined the display of 1401 at the Smithsonian.

  2. I don't envy you reproducing 'Russia iron', as apparently the exact tone could vary from sheet to sheet! If I remember Wilbur Kurtz's painting correctly, he showed her Civil War livery as a light blue, with brown (wood?) cab. As she stands, Texas is of a later period than that, so perhaps should reflect that era. We have this problem a bit in Britain - preserved locos being painted in liveries which are 'wrong' for their present condition or, as on the Talyllyn liveries which they never, ever wore. It upsets some people very badly - I'm just glad we still have the engines! Incidentally, in the novel, "The Engineer Corporal", which centres around the Andrews Raid, Terence Cuneo portrayed General as she is now, but in a royal blue livery, while Texas bore very little resemblance to her at any time! (It did have the right number of wheels)